Dog dental cleaning
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Dog Dental Cleaning: What You Should Know

The importance of dog dental cleanings cannot be overstated. Neglecting to care for your pet’s teeth can result in serious health problems and higher dog teeth cleaning costs in the future.

Dental disease is incredibly common in dogs. The American Veterinary Dental College estimates that by age 3, most pets have developed evidence of periodontitis (infection, inflammation and breakdown of the structures that support teeth). Some studies have shown rates of periodontitis nearing or reaching 100 percent in certain populations of dogs.

Why Pets Need Dental Cleanings

Poor oral hygiene causes more than just bad breath. When plaque on teeth isn’t removed regularly, it turns into hard tartar. Both plaque and tartar irritate the gums and can result in infection. While plaque can be brushed off at home, tartar cannot. Tartar requires veterinary attention.

As conditions worsen, dogs can suffer from oral pain, abscesses, gum separation, loss of bone that supports teeth, and teeth that are loose and fall out. Bacteria originating in the mouth can travel into the bloodstream and damage the kidneys, heart, lungs and other organs.

Signs You Need to Schedule a Dog Teeth Cleaning

Signs that you might need to schedule a dog teeth cleaning include:

  • Bad breath
  • Discolored teeth
  • Receding and/or bleeding gums
  • Drooling
  • Loose or missing teeth
  • Poor appetite
  • Sneezing and nasal discharge (from an abscess that breaks into the nasal passages)

Your vet should examine your pet’s mouth during every checkup. Based on what they find, they may recommend that you schedule a dog dental cleaning.

What Does a Dog Dental Cleaning Entail?

Veterinarians often suggest doing some lab tests before a dog teeth cleaning. These tests help vets assess the dog’s overall health and plan the anesthesia needed to perform a safe and thorough dog teeth cleaning. Endotracheal tubes, IV catheters, IV fluids and multiple patient monitors are all used to keep dogs safe during a dental cleaning.

During the cleaning itself, your vet or a trained veterinary technician will scale all surfaces of your pet’s teeth to remove plaque and tartar. The area underneath the gum line also will be cleaned, which is necessary to reduce gum inflammation (gingivitis).

Once your dog’s teeth have been scaled, they will be polished to make it more difficult for plaque to redevelop. The teeth also might be treated with fluoride or products formulated to slow the return of plaque and tartar. Dental X-rays (radiographs) are often taken to assess the health of structures, like tooth roots, that aren’t visible. Other procedures might be necessary depending on the health of your pet’s mouth.

How Much is a Dog Dental Cleaning?

Dog dental cleaning costs vary. Some variability is due to local differences in rent, salaries, taxes and the like, but most is related to the state of your pet’s mouth. You can imagine that a simple dental cleaning for a dog who has just a little tartar and no other problems will cost a lot less than cleaning the teeth of a dog who has severe periodontitis and other health problems that require advanced care.

It’s hard to provide numbers for the cost of a dog dental cleaning, but Dr. Judy Morgan, DVM tells PetMD that in her two southern New Jersey veterinary practices dental prices “range from around $500 up to $1,000. These prices do not include oral radiographs, which could add $150-$200 more.” Dr. Morgan also notes that when her patients visit veterinary dental specialists for cleaning and extractions, they have paid anywhere from $2,000-$3,000. Prior to scheduling a dog teeth cleaning, ask your veterinarian for an individualized estimate of expenses.

If finances are tight, a low cost dog dental cleaning can certainly look appealing. Many veterinary practices offer discounts in February, which is National Pet Dental Health Month. However, beware of advertisements for dog teeth cleaning without anesthesia. It is simply not possible to safely and thoroughly clean all of a dog’s teeth (including under the gum line) without anesthesia. Dog teeth cleaning risks increase if anesthesia is skipped.

Keeping Your Dog’s Teeth Clean at Home

Since veterinary dental treatments can be so costly, it’s smart to practice good pet dental care at home. Here are several ways that you can help keep your dog’s teeth clean:

Daily brushing.

Brushing your dog’s teeth every day is the best way to prevent plaque build-up. A brush with a small head and soft bristles, such as the Virbac C.E.T. pet toothbrush, will make the process easier and more comfortable for your dog. Select a pet-friendly, fluoride-free toothpaste for brushing your dog’s teeth. Sentry Petrodex Veterinary Strength Enzymatic poultry flavor dog toothpaste and Sentry Petrodex Veterinary Strength Natural peanut flavor dog toothpaste are safe when swallowed and come in flavors that pets find appealing.

Finger brushes.

If your dog won’t tolerate a toothbrush, you can use a finger brush, like the Pet Republique dog and cat finger toothbrush. These rubbery brushes slide over the top of your finger and can be used with dog toothpaste.

Water additives.

While not a replacement for brushing, water additives are a great addition to any dental program. Active ingredients help kill bacteria and promote a clean, healthy mouth. Dental Fresh Original Water Additive is scent- and taste-free, which can be handy for finicky pets.

Dental chews and treats.

Tasty treats, like Greenies, are a clever way to trick pets into cleaning their own teeth. Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets Dental Chewz are high in protein and low in fat, making them ideal for regular consumption. If your dog has dietary sensitivities, try WHIMZEES Stix dental dog treats, which are vegetarian and gluten-free.

Dental diets.

If your pet is very susceptible to dental issues, your vet might suggest a dog food formulated to promote dental health. Both prescription and over-the-counter options (Hill's Science Diet Adult Oral Care Dry Dog Food, for example) are available and can be good options for pets who are resistant to other dental care options.

Get more tips on how to take care of your dog's teeth.

Arming yourself with these resources will help you keep your dog’s mouth in good shape, and if dental disease does still develop, it can be treated more easily and cheaply when caught early. Taking dogs to the vet for regular check-ups is the best way to set them up for a long and healthy life.

By: Dr. Jennifer Coates, DVM
Dr. Jennifer Coates was valedictorian of her graduating class at the VA-MD Regional College of Veterinary Medicine and has practiced in Virginia, Wyoming, and Colorado in the years since. She is also the author of numerous articles, short stories, and books, including the Dictionary of Veterinary Terms, Vet-Speak Deciphered for the Non-Veterinarian. She lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with her husband, children, dog (Apollo), and cat (Minerva).

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